For many people, gambling is a small-scale fun activity, a flutter on sports, or buying a lottery ticket. But for some people betting can become a serious drain on finances and a major problem. Here are some of the indicators that betting behaviour has become unhealthy.
Playing at safe sites
Not all, or most, gambling is like this. Many people enjoy having fun playing casino games online; mobile compatibility makes them easily accessible for those who like to game on the go, and the broad range of slots and classic table games offer excellent variety for keen bettors.
Unfortunately, some people are prone to addictive behavior, and this has substantial negative implications regardless of the addiction type (alcohol, drugs, gambling, and so forth). However, people are not powerless in the face of compulsive behavior and the sooner one realizes there is a problem, the easier it is to fight against and overcome. Here are some of the signs to watch out for when it comes to problem gambling.
In the United Kingdom, gambling rates are on the rise and online gambling has recently hit an all-time high (raising concerns about a corresponding rise in problem gambling). Any leisure activity can be costly (golf is known for costing a lot) but when the price of betting has started to affect real-life living expenses then it has gotten out of hand.
This does not just mean the worst-case scenario of things like food, fuel, and rent/mortgage payments, it also applies if you have to cut back on your normal vacation because of debts from betting or leisure activities such as dining out. This is a huge red flag that you do not have a hobby, you have a problem. Similarly, if you end up selling items to pay for gambling or (worse still) borrowing to fund betting, these are massive warning signs.
The gambler’s fallacy
The Gambler’s Fallacy is the view that the statistical odds of an outcome are affected by prior results (often used in roulette, where some people are convinced red or black is ‘due’ a result). This applies more broadly and is a statistical falsehood. If you have lost a lot of money or spun a slot two dozen times without a win you are not ‘owed’ a winning outcome, and nor have the odds on that occurring changed at all because of past losses.
If you end up gambling to try and recoup losses and feel that a big win is right around the corner this is a sign of problem betting.
Spending time on gambling rather than family and friends
Everyone has a different social calendar, with variations from the extremes of introversion to extroversion being normal. However, if your particular level of social activity with friends and family is becoming disrupted because you are choosing to spend time playing casino games or betting on sports to having regular dinners, cinema excursions, and other such activities this is a strong sign that betting is starting to hold an excessive sway over your life.
Money matters and is the most obvious thing people think of when it comes to gambling woes, but time matters too, and neglecting people you care about to bet is not a sign of good psychological health or self-control.
Trying to escape stress, depression, and anxiety
Stress and depression are incredibly common problems that people face on a regular basis (something not eased by the recent pandemic and ensuing lockdowns that caused substantial real-world disruption and financial difficulties for many). A (very bad) coping mechanism that some people (including increasing numbers of children) have opted for is betting, as a sort of stress-relief valve.
This is particularly a problem given how early children are introduced to smartphones, and the more distant relationship with money (handing over cash in person is literally more tangible than numbers changing on a screen). Whether lonely or anxious, stressed or depressed, gambling will not make those problems go away and may add more by adding financial difficulties to the list.
One of the most obvious warning signs is difficulty stopping a gambling session. If you have half an hour to kill and are still betting an hour later this is a straightforward indication things are out of hand, especially if that hour becomes two or three. Whether this is drawn out by the sugar rush of excitement or the desperation of chasing a win, getting hooked like this and struggling to stop once you start is a very bad sign.
Extreme highs and lows
A related symptom of problematic behaviour is feeling extreme highs and lows with wins and losses, which can drive bettors to desperately seek wins and be willing to trudge through a long dry spell for that high. The problem here is that such a prolonged period of loss comes with a hefty price tag attached. It’s always worth remembering, whether things are going well or badly, that online betting sites make their money because the house has an edge over the player. The odds are the more you play, the more you’ll lose.
What to do?
To start with, when you begin gambling it’s a good idea to have in mind before you make the first bet both a total bankroll you can afford to lose, and individual stake limits (often 1% or less of your bankroll is a good idea, so you can’t rapidly blow through all your funds and be tempted to deposit more). Take advantage of casino/sportsbook options to set up depositing and betting limits so that excitement or forgetfulness does not lead to depositing and risking more than is wise. And if you end up betting more or spending more time than you planned on betting, stop as soon as you realize.
If you do develop a problem with betting, take responsibility. Financial problems cannot be solved by gambling, so if you need to work extra hours or take on a part-time job these are much better options. Handing over your cards to a significant other (and telling them of your troubles may remove another source of stress) can be a good way of removing temptation. And, if need be, you can find help from a credit counselor or problem gambling specialist who will be familiar with the type of situation you find yourself in and be able to offer both a sympathetic ear and practical advice.
While for most bettors the lottery, sports betting, casino games, and so on are just a spot of harmless fun, those who find themselves in trouble should know there is light at the end of the tunnel and help is available.
John Wayne did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.